Working to Keep Asheville Real!

With a few formal meetings and more than a dozen board and commission meetings under my belt now, I’ve begun to advance some of the issues I raised during the election campaign. The first two that I’ll be bringing to Council involve a Living Wage provision for City contract service workers (janitorial and lawn maintenance) and a Civil Liberties Resolution (discussion below).

Meanwhile, Brownie Newman brought forward a plan he’s been working on for some time, now called the Asheville Energy Independence Initiative, which is modeled on the Retrofit Loan programs I touted last year, and I’m pleases to support Brownie’s effort. We approved it in theory and it’s moving forward with the City Staff now.

Gordon Smith will bring Domestic Partner Benefits to the Council this coming Tuesday, Feb. 9. His plan would extend City benefits to same-sex partners of city employees who meet certain criteria. (In most such plans there are requirements of joint property ownership or banking, or joint custody of children … legal obligations that indicate a meaningful partnership. Those rules would have to be worked out.)

Although some other North Carolina cities have created such plans, I can’t see how such a plan would stand up to legal challenge. I would think that the same rules would have to apply to all domestic partners regardless of sexual orientation, and I am seeking legal clarification from the NC School of Government.

We’ve begun work on the Downtown Master Plan, as well. Each piece of that proposed set of rules will have to be examined, codified and approved over the next few months.

To send an e-mail to all Council members about any issue, click here.


Living Wages for service workers

Asheville is a certified Living Wage employer. All full time workers receive a combination of wages and benefits that qualify under the stipulations of Just Economics, the local living wage certification organization. However, the people who clean the toilets, sweep the floors, tote the garbage and cut the lawns are not included because they are contract workers.

I am advancing a plan that would require service contractors to pay all of their employees on city jobs a living wage, beginning with the next contract bids. Studies have shown that Living Wage requirements adopted by other governments have had a very small effect on costs (1 percent), and it seems unreasonable to me for our tax money to bid down the value of labor in Asheville. That hurts everyone.

By the way, I’m also part of a group, the Asheville Ethical Society, which has launched a BUYcott campaign. We encourage people to preferentially patronize Living Wage certified businesses, and to make it clear to those businesses that we are directing our money to them for that reason. As this grows, we’ll reach out to other employers to encourage them to join the movement.


Civil Liberties Resolution

The language of the proposed resolution (posted at the bottom of this newsletter) is largely self-explanatory. It reflects a broader view than my previous suggestion that Asheville join the Sanctuary City movement. I’ve been helped by a number of citizens and lawyers in framing this proposal, and it is still subject to change.

The provision concerning immigrants is urgent. A study by the Police Foundation has shown that cities where local police do not enforce federal immigration law are safer because immigrants trust the police. Police chiefs from Raleigh and Cary, North Carolina have publicly endorsed this idea, as has the recently retired chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. In addition, use of local police to enforce federal law is an unfunded mandate. It’s better for us to use our resources on local public safety than to address a problem that is international in scope.

I am on the City Council Public Safety Committee and will introduce this measure there soon. In addition I will present it to the Police Committee of the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council (to which I am Council liaison).


Learning curve

Even after 28 years in Buncombe County there’s a lot I don’t know, and being on Council is a great way to learn fast. I’m getting to as many meetings as I can fit into my schedule and have read a mountain of paperwork.

Probably the single most amazing fact I’ve been exposed to so far came in the white paper prepared for Council by City Manger Gary Jackson and Staff. Asheville has the largest percentage daily population change of any large city in North Carolina. Something like 40,000 to 45,000 people commute into the city every day. Our resident population is around 75,000. That means that city taxpayers are providing services and infrastructure to a huge pool of non-taxpayers.

It also means that the “parking problem” we hear about constantly is really a commuter parking problem, not a shopper problem or a resident problem. To my way of thinking this underscores the need for satellite parking lots and improved transit service. Gas prices are already climing again, faster than the economy is recovering. We will almost certainly see $3.50 per gallon by the end of 2010 (unless the economy crashes again). That’s the price level at which people shift their driving habits and I believe demand for transit will go up and demand for downtown parking will go down. We can’t run buses to every neighborhood in the surrounding counties, but we can create satellite lots, hopefully with cooperation from the County government.

In a related matter, I’ve learned that despite the offer of free transit, not many City employees are using the system. I hope to get buy-in from other Council members and Staff on my proposal to purchase loaner cars so that employees who opt for transit will know they have a vehicle available if a child is sick at school or for other urgent errands. (We already have a guaranteed ride program that will pay for cab service if workers miss their bus – though that back-up is almost never used.)


Volunteers Needed!

Do you knit? Can you do taxes? Are you a counselor? Can you teach GED classes? Are you a crafter? Can you help someone learn how to apply for a job? How to dress for success?

Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry is about to help fill a big gap in services for the homeless in Asheville. While we have pretty adequate night shelters there have been no day programs available. ABCCM is readying the launch of a women’s and a men’s day shelter program with classes and counseling to provide significant help for folks who are struggling to get back on their feet.

Meredith Hammond, program coordinator for the women’s program, told me they will need about 40 volunteers (total for both programs), each putting in an hour or two every week. Click on her name to e-mail her for more info. Jimmy Vestal, chaplain of the Veterans Restoration Quarters, can tell you more about the men’s program.


Boards and Commissions

FYI: I’m on two Council sub-committees, the Finance Committee (which evaluates all proposals which will have a significant effect on budget matters) and Public Safety (which oversees Police, Fire and Emergency Services).

I am Council liaison to the Asheville Buncombe Community Relations Council, the Fair Housing Authority, the Regional Air Quality Board, the Tree Commission, the Recreation Board, and the Sustainability Advisory Committee on Energy and the Environment (SACEE). Events



WHEREAS: The City of Asheville affirms its strong support for the fundamental constitutional rights of every person and recognizes that the preservation of civil liberties is essential to the well-being of a democratic society; and the City of Asheville is proud of its long and distinguished tradition of protecting the civil liberties and affording equal protection of the law to all persons in the City, who include a diverse population of many races, religions, and national and ethnic origins, including immigrants, tourists and students, whose contributions to the community’s economy, culture and civic character are vast and important;

WHEREAS: The City of Asheville opposes measures that single out individuals for legal scrutiny or enforcement activity based on their race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, religious or political opinion or activity, or immigration status.

WHEREAS: The City of Asheville opposes any efforts to transfer federal immigration responsibility to state and local officials, since these proposals tax our already overburdened police department and damage relationships with immigrant communities; criminalizing U.S. citizens, those who work with and for immigrants and immigrants themselves, is not a viable long-term solution to concerns over immigration and will continue separating families while preventing civic participation by all persons;

WHEREAS: The City of Asheville believes that there is no inherent conflict between national security and the preservation of liberty but that Americans can be both safe and free;

WHEREAS: The City of Asheville wishes to play a leading role in the protection of civil liberties and to consistently promote tolerance and respect for all persons, immigrants, visitors, students, and citizens alike, and recognizes that a number of other jurisdictions in North Carolina and in the United States have enacted policies or laws to protect the civil liberties of all persons regardless of race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, religious or political opinion or activity, or immigration status.


Section 1. The City of Asheville upholds the constitutional rights and civil liberties of any and all persons and it is the policy of the City of Asheville to protect against discrimination on the basis of race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, religious or political opinion or activity, or immigration status.

Section 2. City of Asheville officers and employees shall refrain from racial profiling, or using race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, disability, religious or political opinion or activity, or immigration status as a factor in selecting individuals, check points or areas of town to subject to investigatory activities;

Section 3. City of Asheville officers and employees shall refrain from engaging in the videotaping or other surveillance of individuals or groups based on their participation in protected activities such as the practice of religion or political advocacy;

Section 4. City of Asheville officers and employees shall refrain from collecting or maintaining information about the political, religious or social views, associations or activities of any individual, association, organization, corporation, business or partnership unless said information is directly related to an investigation of criminal conduct that is based on reasonable suspicion.

Section 5. City of Asheville officers and employees shall refrain from participating in the enforcement of federal immigration laws or initiatives such as the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), that encourage members of the general public to spy on their neighbors, colleagues and customers, or the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that drive a wedge between the immigrant community and the local police who need to protect the welfare of all our residents; no department, agency, commission, officer or employee of the City of Asheville shall use City funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration laws, or to gather, use or disseminate the immigration status information of individuals in the City of Asheville.

BE IT ALSO RESOLVED that the provisions of this Resolution shall be severable, and if any provision of this Resolution is declared unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction, the validity of the remainder shall not be affected.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Resolution shall be forwarded to all City of Asheville law enforcement agencies and to every department, agency, commission, officer and employee of the City of Asheville and to our local, state and federal legislative delegations on behalf of the residents of the City of Asheville.


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